The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege have today published their report, in which they reaffirm that the principle of free speech in Parliament is a ‘fundamental liberty’ in a democracy.
The Committee consider that comprehensive codification of the law around parliamentary privilege is not required at present, and that legislation in this area should only be used when ‘absolutely necessary’. Yet they stress that, should the measures outlined in the report fail to preserve Parliament’s freedom from interference, whether by the executive or the judiciary, Parliament should stand ready to legislate to protect its ability to operate freely and independently.
The Committee recognise that in some areas greater clarity on the extent of parliamentary privilege is required. They recommend that:
• The House of Commons and House of Lords should reassert their power to investigate and, if necessary, punish those who interfere with or obstruct the work of committees, while at the same time setting out procedural safeguards to ensure that such investigations are entirely fair.
• The law on the reporting and broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings should be modernised. In particular, new statutory provisions should be introduced to confirm that broadcasts made under the authority of either House, including online publication, enjoy absolute privilege.
• There should also be provision made to establish that privilege applies to all fair and accurate media reports of Parliamentary proceedings, unless they can be proved to have been motivated maliciously.
• While the Committee do not support legislation to limit judicial questioning of parliamentary debates or committee reports, they say legislation remains an option if required.
In addition, the Committee conclude that draft clauses in the Green Paper that would remove the absolute freedom of speech in Parliament, as enshrined in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, in respect of criminal prosecutions, are unnecessary and would have a damaging effect upon free speech in Parliament.
Notes to Editors
1. The report is available.
2. For further information please contact Owen Williams on 020 7219 8659.